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American isolationism and its consequences

30 October 2011

9:59 AM

30 October 2011

9:59 AM

I’ve spent the last couple of days in the United States, far away from the brouhaha in
Europe. What has struck me most during meetings with US officials is how low down their list of priorities Europe — and indeed Britain — comes. This is an Asian Century, and the US
means to focus inwards and eastwards but not elsewhere. As an official put it to me, "we see Britain moving away from Europe and being distant to us." There is even talk of closing down
US European Command.

This new focus will have a number of consequences. Take Libya, for instance. The UK and France could have fought the war, and won, without the US, but American involvement allowed casualties and
collateral damage to be minimised. The US supplied critical capacities that the Europeans did not have, such as intelligence, air-to-air refuelling and drones.

If the US is, in future, reluctant to engage in such military operations, the "safety premium" which comes with US participation will disappear: the UK and France will be able to win
wars, but in a dirtier way. At the same time, European tolerance for failure in its periphery — in North Africa, the Balkans, SAHEL — will probably have to increase, as critical US
assets will not be available.


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